words: Mary Walsh
photos: Aaron Blatt
captions: Pat Bridges
Halfpipe finals has long been emblematic of the entire X Games Aspen weekend. Under the lights in the center of the Buttermilk base area, the 22-foot behemoth is an archetypal, bright, snowy site, with pristinely cut sides and perfect transition. It's a competition icon and in the 2015 X Games, predictable results were cast aside as the competitors put forth creativity, style and variation, culminating in one of the most engaging halfpipe contests of the past few years. While halfpipe can often earn a poor rap with an element of predictability, this year in Aspen was different.
This January, as opposed to closing out the weekend's events, the men's transition talents kicked off Winter X's competitive schedule. On Thursday night, the pipe was illuminated and the semifinals round commenced. Crowd favorites like Ben Ferguson, Taylor Gold and Arthur Longo were unfortunately eliminated and as the start of finals rolled around, eight men stood at the top of the pipe in anticipation of nothing more than three attempts to prove that they deserved to stand atop the 2015 X Games podium. Gabe Ferguson, Ayumu Hirano, Taku Hiraoka, Iouri Podladtchikov, David Habluetzel, Yiwei Zhang, Danny Davis, and Shaun White cranked their bindings down and waited for their drops in front of a crowd that was steeped in anticipation.
When it comes to judging halfpipe, there are four aspects that really matter: difficulty, amplitude, variety and execution. Pipe runs that combine all of these elements best are rewarded with high scores and various metal ores. Even though corked spins may seem to reign supreme when it comes to earning points, the scoring system is far more complicated and as such, riders are allotted ample room to be creative in their runs. For the three riders that bested the group, these elements reigned heavy in each of their highest scored runs.
2014 Sochi Olympic victor Iouri Podladtchikov has cemented himself into superpipe royalty with his ability to land technical maneuvers at lofty heights. With two X Games silvers in the 2010 and 2012 events, Iouri showed up to Aspen with medal on his mind. After putting down a first run that was scored an 89.00, Iouri was in podium contention from the beginning, but was pushed to third place by Taku Hiraoka and Danny Davis who both landed runs in the 90’s on their third attempts. While he yearned to outdo his competitors on his second and third runs, it was his first drop that would stand and earn him the bronze, consisting of a method, front five, back double cork twelve, front double ten, cab double ten, and finishing with an alley oop rodeo five.
Taku Hiroaka has been a quiet phenom on the pipe scene for a couple of seasons and at only 19 years old is still one of the younger competitors. Taku won bronze in Sochi last year and at this showing in Aspen, earned his first X Games medal for a run that included a crippler, back nine, frontside double ten, cab double ten, and a double front twelve. The Japanese rider had some of the highest airs of the evening and took home a silver medal.
Since last year's X Games and the iconic, lofty switch methods that this Midwestern-raised rider puts down, Danny Davis has reigned as the people's halfpipe champion. In a discipline that can, at times, seem predictable and at worst, stale, Davis' drops into the pipe are unconventional and unpredictable. And this year, after two runs that kept him in contention but out of the podium, Danny further cemented his rule as a favorite in the dude tube on his third drop, during which he sent a McTwist, frontside nine, backside seven, switch method, cab ten, and frontside double cork ten. The run earned a 93.66 from the judges and as the final run of the night, landed Danny in the top spot at the 2015 edition of Winter X.
It's important to note that Davis' final run is far from a one hit wonder, so to speak. Over the course of the evening, Danny put down five different runs and when it comes to X Games judging criteria, this variety was one key to his success; snowboarding is about creativity after all. Davis' drops lacked traditional set up tricks and contained spins in all four directions. While double and triple corks are burly tricks, the technicality of a back seven nose to switch method in the pipe rivals multiple off-axis spins. This is the stuff of a master halfpipe rider.
For 2015, the X Games men's pipe competition is a wrap and as a start to four days of big air, slopestyle, and women's pipe, the weekend is looking bright. Stay tunes to Snowboarder.com for coverage the entire weekend long.
1st – Danny Davis
2nd – Taku Hiraoka
3rd – Iouri Podladtchikov
4th – Shaun White
5th – David Habluetzel
6th – Ayumu Hirano
7th – Yiwei Zhang
8th – Gabe Ferguson